After leaving Kruger we went to the Jane Goodall funded Chimp Eden, the only chimpanzee sanctuary in South Africa. Chimps aren’t native to South Africa, but this center takes in chimps that have been rescued, mostly from very bad situations in which they were made to perform in a circus or kept as pets. Pretty much all of the chimps were abused and are therefor aggressive towards human; several of the staff members have been injured including having fingers bitten off and worse.
These chimps have been conditioned to rely on humans for survival so they would not last in the wild. They have to be kept in very secure enclosures (behind electric fences) but the center does make a huge effort to give them a comfortable and semi-natural place to live.
I’ve always been fascinated by chimps, but seeing them up close like this made me appreciate even more how similar to humans they are. Several of them have developed nervous habits from the abuse they endured and one chimp, who’s around 70 years old, was kept in the circus with baboons for 20 years and actually learned to speak baboon. Apparently when the local baboons come near the enclosure he is able to talk to them which really freaks out the baboons. A lot of the chimps are also recovering alcoholics and still beg for alcohol whenever they see someone with it.
One of the stories that initially got me interested in chimps was that of Travis. He was raised by a woman as if he were a human and eventually brutally attacked one of the woman’s friends. I asked the lady who was leading our tour at the center if she knew about Travis, and she said she did and that Travis’s brother, Cozy, actually lived there in Chimp Eden.
Cozy was an exceptionally sad story. He was kept as a pet by a group of gypsies in Italy where he was severally abused. He was forced to wear jeans which stunted and deformed his growth, was beat over the head which resulted in brain damage, and eventually castrated which means he has basically no status within his chimp family. In order to impress his peers he throws rocks and other objects at humans when they come to feed them (we were harmlessly showered with some rocks by Cozy).
Overall the experience was very fascinating as well as a little depressing. Seeing chimps live in the wild is definitely something I hope to do in the future.